Message from the CUCM President: Urgent Care and the Post-Pandemic World – Q1 2023

The COVID-19 pandemic may be coming to an end, but the past 3 years have taken a toll on Urgent Care providers and staff. When the healthcare system was overwhelmed during the pandemic, Urgent Care centers were a lifeline for healthcare — providing diagnostic testing, evaluation and treatment for patients who could not be seen elsewhere. We were overworked and exhausted, but we persevered because of our commitment to take care of our patients and our communities. By most metrics, the pandemic is over. The national healthcare emergency will expire on May 11, 2023. Daily life is returning to pre-pandemic routines. Yet, many Urgent Care providers continue to feel stress and burnout even as life returns to “normal.”

During the pandemic, patients could not easily access primary care or specialty care. Emergency departments were beyond capacity. Patients turned to Urgent Care because Urgent Care offered much needed access to walk-in care. While this was good for volume, many Urgent Care centers were not designed to manage chronic medical conditions. As the pandemic winds down, access to primary care has not improved, and in many markets has worsened.  An informal survey of colleagues across the United States reveals that wait times for primary care appointments can be up to several months.

At the same time, we have an obligation to provide the best possible care for our patients. If primary care follow-up is infeasible or unrealistic, what are our options? As an industry we may need to re-evaluate our practice model and come up with solutions. Some Urgent Care practices successfully incorporated elements of primary care into the Urgent Care practice. Unfortunately, many practitioners are increasingly frustrated facing patients who are presenting to Urgent Care centers for chronic management of conditions because they do not have access to primary care.

The Urgent Care Association and the College of Urgent Care Medicine have formed a taskforce to advance the specialty. While the initial focus is on identifying competencies and services that differentiate Urgent Care from primary care, should we also look at identifying primary care services that can be efficiently and effectively managed in Urgent Care? After all, if follow-up with primary care is not feasible, should we develop pathways to manage conditions such as uncomplicated hypertension, diabetes and thyroid disorders? Even with primary care clinics offering work-in slots and after-hours services, patients continue to seek care at Urgent Care centers.

The College of Urgent Care Medicine represents you. We need your help. We need you to play an active role in helping to shape the future of the specialty of Urgent Care medicine. I hope to see you at the Urgent Care Convention coming up in April. The College Member Meeting and Lunch is Tuesday, April 4. This is the once-a-year opportunity we have to meet to tackle issues exclusive to physicians, NPs and PAs practicing Urgent Care medicine. We will host panel discussion with experts in our field while also seeking your feedback. I look forward to meeting you and hearing your thoughts, ideas, and concerns. See you soon!

Chris Chao, MD, President, College of Urgent Care Medicine Board of Directors